During the cold winter months, we meet up with our nearby friends to play ‘Belote’ in the evenings – it keeps us in touch with everyone and passes away the long evenings, as we often play from 8pm to 2pm in the morning!! It’s quite a different experience, especially as it’s traditional in rural communities to share food with visitors before they leave, so we’re often eating cakes and such like at midnight!

Possibly during such an evening, Edward made arrangements with our nearest friend and neighbour, Claude, to visit a 92-year-old gentleman, whom we’d met before and Edward wanted to meet again to listen to his first-hand account of local events during WWII. After a few hours with him, Claude took Edward to see another local man, Henri, who is in his 80’s and almost blind but still manages to play a mean game of Boules!

When he returned home, Edward presented me with two lovely baskets that Henri had made and wanted to give to me. They are beautiful. Apparently, the conversation came around to them saying they thought it would be good for me to learn how to make them myself…..

It was only a few days later when Henri and Claude arrived chez nous to make arrangements with me to take my first lesson! Cautiously, I asked how much it would cost, expecting the worst, only for them to break out giggling, saying it wouldn’t cost anything, just my time 🙂

So, later that week, I went up to meet with Henri and his little dog, Dolly. Before too long, I was stripping bark off chestnut branches that had been heated on an open fire, splitting them, whittling and bending them to shape to make the framework for the pannier.

Next, Henri disappeared outside, returning with some previously cut willow, which we split into 3 or 4 pieces with a specially made implement, depending on the thickness of the branch. These were then stripped down further to make them more pliable for weaving….

I found it hard on the hands to work with the chestnut, but Henri made it look easy – having the right knives and tools makes a big difference too… It was a pleasant afternoon, sitting by the fire, working with the wood and willow, creating something that in the past, would have been made by most of the local farmers… This type of basket was made specifically for harvesting potatoes, only much larger!

Henri

By dinner time it was pitch black outside but I had the framework and part of the basket woven. Same again for the following afternoon, then!

An afternoon’s work
Finished!

I felt very privileged to be shown this very skilled craft, as locals coming to Henri’s place for one thing or another, admired our work and congratulated him on passing on the knowledge. How humbling and daunting to think I shall be carrying it forward….

The following week, I returned for another two afternoons to make a second, smaller basket, this time ‘tout seul’, as Henri said! In truth, he stripped the willow, while I did the weaving but it was still a triumph to have a small basket at the end, which I shall be able to use during this year’s harvest….

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One for tomatoes and one for onions, perhaps!

I understand that the remaining bits of willow, too few to make another basket, have been planted near Claude’s lake, so I should have a ready supply for future basket weaving in a year or two…. What a wonderful experience to have had and exciting to think I may be able to make more baskets in the winters to come…..

Dolly